Ruth Bartesko gives some love to Fanny the Shetland pony during an Equine Assisted Learning session at Heart Lake Farm on March 8. Bartesko is one of several participants from the Victoria Brain Injury Society to take part in the new program. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Ruth Bartesko gives some love to Fanny the Shetland pony during an Equine Assisted Learning session at Heart Lake Farm March 8. Bartesko is one of several participants from the Victoria Brain Injury Society to take part in the new program. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Ruth Bartesko gives some love to Fanny the Shetland pony during an Equine Assisted Learning session at Heart Lake Farm on March 8. Bartesko is one of several participants from the Victoria Brain Injury Society to take part in the new program. (Nina Grossman/News Staff) Ruth Bartesko gives some love to Fanny the Shetland pony during an Equine Assisted Learning session at Heart Lake Farm March 8. Bartesko is one of several participants from the Victoria Brain Injury Society to take part in the new program. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Greater Victoria brain injury survivors harness power of equine connection

Vancouver Island’s Humble Hooves providing a calming presence and a special connection

With a gentle sniff, kind eyes and flicker of her fuzzy ears, Fanny’s calm, inquisitive demeanour is infectious.

Fanny, a bay Shetland pony, is one of four equine participants in this Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) session at Heart Lake Farm near Victoria. She’s led through a small obstacle course by her two handlers, who provide ample affection after she calmly follows their directions over the poles.

A partnership between the Victoria Brain Injury Society, Central Saanich’s Heart Lake Farm and Humbles Hooves – a Cobble Hill-based horse wellness and therapy rescue farm – EAL is a non-riding life skills program rooted in the healing power of equine connection.

Participants – brain injury survivors and their family, friends and supporters – are invited to work in teams of two, with one horse or pony, to tackle different activities.

“I think horses have a very unique way of communicating,” says Tammera Merkins, Humble Hooves owner and operator. “Because they’re prey animals, they mirror what’s going on around them, and so they kind of ask humans to show up in a certain way – to be calm, or have leadership.”

READ ALSO: Tiny therapeutic horse makes for touching story

Joan Davy grooms Misty the pony during a Humble Hooves Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) session at Heart Lake Farm March 8. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Merkins says participants have reported feeling a sense of calm from the horses and have grown more confident being around them.

“We’re seeing these skills they’re learning here in the arena transfer over into their everyday lives.”

While grooming a horse named Gina, participant Joan Davy says that since her brain injury, light, sounds and sights can become overwhelming.

“Often with brain injury, words are … too much and so (I’m) learning to be with a being that is more about reading gestures and responses,” Davy says. “They are very sweet.”

She says isolation has been the norm for her – long before COVID-19.

“So I’m really grateful to have a new experience and probably the only social experience in months and months and months,” she says.

The session is the last in a series of workshops, but a 10-week program begins in April, available only to clients of the Victoria Brain Injury Society.

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

READ ALSO: Forward-thinking therapy at Saanich ranch

Brain injury survivors and their families partner up for an Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) session at Heart Lake Farm. Operated by Humble Hooves, the program encourages communication and connection for participants. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)


Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: nina.grossman@blackpress.ca. Follow us on Instagram.
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

Tala MacDonald, a 17-year-old student at Mount Sentinel Secondary who is also a volunteer firefighter, has won the $100,000 Loran Scholarship. Photo: Submitted
West Kootenay student wins $100K scholarship

Tala MacDonald is one of 30 Canadians to receive the Loran Scholarship

Kristian Camero and Jessica Wood, seen here, co-own The Black Cauldron with Stephen Barton. The new Nelson restaurant opened earlier this month while indoor dining is restricted by the province. Photo: Tyler Harper
A restaurant opens in Nelson, and no one is allowed inside

The Black Cauldron opened while indoor dining is restricted in B.C.

First-year Selkirk College student Terra-Mae Box is one of many talented writers who will read their work at the Black Bear Review’s annual (virtual) launch on April 22. Photo: Submitted
An early shot of Nakusp’s Centennial building. (Contributed)
Nakusp library turns 100 years old

The instiution has more than books

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

(Black Press file photo).
Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Most Read